I was recently invited by Philip De Parto to be a speaker at the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County (SFABC). It was a fantastic experience that exposed me to a new group of wonderfully intelligent people with fascinating opinions. I caught up with Phil afterward to learn more about how the SFABC works.
Michael Tresca (MT): What is SFABC all about?
Philip De Parto (PP): The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County (New Jersey) is a group for people who enjoy science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, comics, anime, and related areas. We run about a dozen events each month: book discussions, video nights, television discussions, fantasy games, social gatherings, a writers’ group, and more. It’s like a buffet. If you like books, you go to the book discussions. If you’re a movie fan, you go to that. People become friends, so you go to some events you may be so-so about just to see people.
MT: How do the meetings work? What happens at the meetings?
PP: The centerpiece of the SFABC is our General Meeting held on the second Saturday of each month. Generally, we start showing animation shorts or a feature at 6:15 p.m. A discussion about current sf/fantasy/horror news and events gets going at 6:30 p.m. The meeting proper doesn’t start until 8 p.m.
The meeting starts with a preview of upcoming club events and announcements of interest to the group. Then we introduce the evening’s speaker. Our speaker may be a writer, an editor, an artist, a film maker, a scientist, a literary agent, a game designer, or something else of interest to the group. Many — like you — wear more than one hat.
After an hour or so we have a recess for people to grab snacks and engage in side conversations. After the break we resume in a less formal set up: chairs in a circle instead of auditorium style. The second part is a lot more free-form. Using your visit as an example, we got into discussions about Kickstarter funding, internet privacy, discrimination, marketing and branding, and many other tangents. At times four or five people were pursuing side discussions at the same time. I discourage that as much as possible, but at times it’s like herding cats.
We have to be out of our meeting hall by or before 11 p.m. and many us are still not talked out, so a batch of us go out to a nearby diner for food, coffee, and chit-chat. Sometimes our speaker accompanies us. Other times, the speaker leaves when the meeting ends.
MT: What is your involvement with SFABC?
PP: I started the Association in 1984. I had been with another group before that. I am not the easiest person in the world to get along with and periodically — every 10-20 years — it is a good idea for me and some people with different ideas to go our separate ways.
MT: How does SFABC define science fiction?
PP: You’d probably get as many different answers on that as members of group. I’m primarily a book person first, media second. So I would answer that it’s imaginative story-telling which tries to conform to our understanding of how the universe works. There are no magic wands in science fiction — that’s fantasy, which I also like very much. Generally speaking, though, science fiction is all-that-weird-stuff: Star Trek and Game of Thrones. Monster Movies and Harry Potter. Buck Rogers and True Blood. Spider-Man and The Walking Dead.
The sad/amusing thing is that we are living in a science fiction world and most people don’t realize it. They use devices and technologies which didn’t exist a generation ago. They say that they don’t like sci-fi , but read The Hunger Games, watch Game of Thrones and go out and watch Iron Man.
MT: What’s your background in science fiction?
PP: I grew up reading the stuff. Then I had an opportunity to meet a writer I liked who was speaking at a science fiction group. Then I got to know a batch of really interesting people and was hooked. There are so many fun, bright people reading and writing sf.
MT: What’s your favorite sci-fi movie? Book? Game?
PP: This is like asking a mother who is her favorite child. Current movie faves include (in no particular order): Iron Man. Sleepy Hollow. Galaxy Quest. Empire Strikes Back. TiMER (a small film that no one’s ever heard of)…
MT: (I’ve heard of it)
PP: …Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter (have to have a cult flick in there somewhere)! Book? I prefer Authors: Jim Butcher. MaryJanice Davidson. Cordwainer Smith (only hard core fans know him, but he’ll be remembered 500 years from now). Suzanne Collins. Andre Norton. Just read A HAT FULL OF SKY by Terry Pratchett, second book in his YA Tiffany Aching series and am really impressed by how he manages to do all the things a writer shouldn’t do and get away with it. Games? When I play D&D; I pine for Runequest 2. When I play Runequest, I miss D&D. I’m in a 3.5 D&D game right now in which a fantasy world is being invaded by aliens right out of a 1930s science ficiton pulp story: sort of Ming the Merciless invades Middle Earth.
MT: How does one join the SFABC
PP: If you’re in the area, show up at a meeting and see if you like us. You may think we’re pompus. We may think you’re a jerk. We may both be right. Or you may have the reaction best expressed by one of our members: “Where have you been my whole life?” If you’re not in the northern NJ/greater NYC metropolitan area, you may still want to join to have access to our Google Group discussions. Write to me at [email protected] and we’ll talk.
MT: What’s next for SFABC?
PP: We just started our D&D game, so it’s more a question of maintaining what is already running than launching anything new at the moment. After that, I’m looking to have our wrtiers’ group get more active with schools and libraries in the area.
MT: Where can we find SFABC online?
PP: We have a deceptively simple website at sfabc.org. Simple, because it’s very plain. Deceptive, because if you start drilling through it, you’ll keep finding more and more information about books, movies, television, art, comics, science, etc.
MT: Anything else you’d like to share?
PP: There are science fiction groups all over the country, all over the world. Look for them. Give them a try. Go more than once. If that group is not for you, see what else is in the area. If you can’t find something, try organizing something yourself. Meetup.com is one platform you can use. The most important thing is to keep your mind open. So many people get out of school and never read another book, have another new thought. They’re dead at 20-something. Go live your life.